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George and Anna May Jackett Remember Building the Bobcaygeon Arena…

March 10, 2022

W.G. Jackett and Sons hoisting trusses into place while constructing Bobcaygeon Arena and Community Centre, 1954

After the community came together to finance the project, in the summer 1954 work began on the Bobcaygeon-Verulam Community Centre and Arena. W.G. Jackett and Sons had the job of erecting the giant wooden trusses, with their lift. It was eighteen-year old George’s first job as a cable lift operator, and it was not the easiest introduction. To be able to reach the peak of the roof, their 45-foot boom was not long enough, so the company had to buy a 20-foot extension boom. A tower was constructed so workers could climb up to put the braces between each truss. The engineered plan specified special nails put in with an air hammer (which was not then a common tool) to ensure that the roof structure could withstand any wind it might face. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, the masons had started on the cement block walls, and everyone went home from work on Friday, October 15, 1954.

“They were warning people on the radio that the storm was coming,” Anna May recalls. “I was going to teacher’s college and mother called me to say I shouldn’t come home from Peterborough that night, but I did. It wasn’t that scary, but it was a bad storm and a terribly windy night.” Hurricane Hazel, having already devastated the Caribbean, worked its way up the east coast of the United States, before tracking into Ontario. It was one of the few tropical storms that was a still a hurricane by the time it reached this province. In Toronto it caused severe flooding and forcing the military to intervene.

Locally, the power was knocked out and a lot of trees were flattened, including a stand near Beatty Road, planted some years before. The Daytonia Lodge, near Cameron was perhaps the most notable local casualty. “We didn’t realize how bad it had been in Toronto until my neighbour Rankin Thurston came over and told us about the terrible flooding and houses floating away,” Rankin, who had not adopted electricity, commented on how it did not affect those living in traditional ways as much as those who had grown accustomed to the new conveniences.

When the crews got the Bobcaygeon Arena in the morning, they found that the block wall that they had just put up was broken and scattered across the ground. “It was a good thing there was no one there when the hurricane hit,” George remembers. The recently erected roof, standing there minus the walls, weathered the storm—the engineer had done his job. But the masons had to redo a lot of blockwork. The crews got back to work, and Bobcaygeon’s new Arena and Community Centre was able to open a few months later in 1955.

Premier Leslie Frost would not miss such an important event taking place in his riding, and the ceremony included the Royal Canadian Air Force Band the Lindsay Figure Skating Club and a Hockey Game between Bobcaygeon and the County All-Stars. The night ended with a draw for a 1955 Plymouth Sedan.

Check out the program from the official opening:

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